Charles Simic


Griffin Poetry Prize 2005
International Winner

Book: Selected Poems: 1963-2003

Poet: Charles Simic

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Click here to read and listen to an excerpt.

Charles Simic reads Shelley

Shelley, by Charles Simic


Poet of the dead leaves driven like ghosts,
Driven like pestilence-stricken multitudes,
I read you first
One rainy evening in New York City,

In my atrocious Slavic accent,
Saying the mellifluous verses
From a battered, much-stained volume
I had bought earlier that day
In a second-hand bookstore on Fourth Avenue
Run by an initiate of the occult masters.

The little money I had being almost spent,
I walked the streets my nose in the book.
I sat in a dingy coffee shop
With last summer’s dead flies on the table.
The owner was an ex-sailor
Who had grown a huge hump on his back
While watching the rain, the empty street.
He was glad to have me sit and read.
He’d refill my cup with a liquid dark as river Styx.

Shelley spoke of a mad, blind, dying king;
Of rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know;
Of graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst to illumine our tempestuous day.

I too felt like a glorious phantom
Going to have my dinner
In a Chinese restaurant I knew so well.
It had a three-fingered waiter
Who’d bring my soup and rice each night
Without ever saying a word.

I never saw anyone else there.
The kitchen was separated by a curtain
Of glass beads which clicked faintly
Whenever the front door opened.
The front door opened that evening
To admit a pale little girl with glasses.

The poet spoke of the everlasting universe
Of things – of gleams of a remoter world
Which visit the soul in sleep –
Of a desert peopled by storms alone –

The streets were strewn with broken umbrellas
Which looked like funereal kites
This little Chinese girl might have made.
The bars on MacDougal Street were emptying.
There had been a fist fight.
A man leaned against a lamp post arms extended as if
The rain washing the blood off his face.

In a dimly lit side street,
Where the sidewalk shone like a ballroom mirror
At closing time –
A well-dressed man without any shoes
Asked me for money.
His eyes shone, he looked triumphant
Like a fencing master
Who had just struck a mortal blow.

How strange it all was – The world’s raffle
That dark October night –
The yellowed volume of poetry
With its Splendors and Glooms
Which I studied by the light of storefronts:
Drugstores and barbershops,
Afraid of my small windowless room
Cold as a tomb of an infant emperor.

From Selected Poems 1963-2003, by Charles Simic
Copyright © Charles Simic, 2004

3 Replies to “Charles Simic”

  1. Hi I am 20 years old and I write poetry, but I was wondering did you go to university or should someone consider that as an option to improving their poetry? Should I just continue what I am doing now by reading it like you did? By the way I listened and read your poem and I am a fan. Thanks.

  2. I was there in 2005 in Dublin when Simic read this and it remains one of my great poetry memories. Thank you Griffin Trust.

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